Humans don't get a lot of vacation time each year. Couple that with the high cost of traveling, and you can wind up feeling a bit overwhelmed when it comes time to plan your summer get-away. There's scientific evidence that shows how humans often miscalculate what kind of vacation they'll enjoy the most and end up missing out on what vacations have to offer in the moment. Many times, vacations are planned months...or even years...in advance. It's really hard to predict what kind of vacation you might want in the future but there are a few tricks, based on actual research, you can use to help plan and enjoy your vacations better.
1. Get advice from those who've gone before you. Sure, you can use travel guides, but science shows it's better to talk to others who have actually been to where you want to go. Leverage the power of social connect. Ask your questions and then, based on the answers you receive, decide if it's really a place you want to visit.
2. Mix up destinations and experiences so you don't adapt. It's nice to linger and relax while on vacation, but the experts agree that humans adapt quite easily to even the most amazing or unusual experiences. It's called hedonic adaptation. That means it's a good idea not to stay put for too long! That fabulous beach sunset is awe-inspiring the first couple of times you see it. But after the tenth time, you may find yourself not even noticing it. It makes good sense, then, to mix it up and move around. Too much of the same good thing and you might find yourself getting bored.
3. Minimize your choices. It's a bit like going into the ice cream store and trying to decide which flavor you want when you're confronted by twenty or more flavors. Too many choices make the decision much harder. If you like to cram a lot of things into your time off, you may come home and feel like you've just done too much. Limiting your choices can help. Staying in a small town with fewer things to see and do can actually be more satisfying than being in a big city where the choices are limitless. Use the strategy of imaging what a typical day on your vacation might be like. And be realistic. Imagine not only the good, but also the bad and the ugly aspects of the day. If you're thinking about going to Paris, for example, you will indeed have lots to see and do. But how much of it will you actually get around to doing, if you're spending all your time in long lines at the Louvre and Eiffel Tower? Ask yourself the tough questions. You may find that visiting Paris during the summer (the busiest time of year there) isn't what you really want. Perhaps a visit to beautiful French countryside is more in keeping with your idea of fun. You'll find great museums and architecture everywhere in France, and you won't spend all day waiting in those long Parisian lines!
4. Consider your own personality when making choices. Just because your best friend's uncle enjoyed seeing thus and such, it doesn't mean you will. Are you more of an extrovert or an introvert? The answer can help you decide if you'll be happier relaxing on a beach in the Caribbean or attending Broadway shows in New York City. Just don't neglect the importance of a challenge. Vacations are a great time to take a step outside your comfort zone. Research has shown that travel can be transformative if you give yourself the right level of challenges as part of the experience.
5. Don't let costs ruin your vacation. "Spending money can be stressful, and there’s no getting around that traveling can be expensive. But a few simple rules will help you get the most pleasure for your buck. Since worrying about expenses is a real drag on happiness, it makes sense to consider buying prepaid vacation plans, where costs are up front and you don’t have to worry about nickel and diming your way through your vacation. Also, it’s a good idea to leave your most luxurious splurge to the end of your trip. Studies find that people tend to evaluate past vacations based on how they ended rather than their overall experience," so says travel author Jaime Kurtz.
6. Plan for some uncertainty and doses of awe and flow. Planning a vacation can be as much fun as actual taking the trip. It's good not to have every minute of every day planned out, however. Leave some uncertainty in your plans. If you're going on a spa holiday, let's say, leave some time in your schedule for exploring new things and a little bit of challenge. Along the way, you may find yourself in the presence of vast and awe-inspiring experiences. And don't forget to go with the flow. Losing track of time as you wander around a new place, is so much more enjoyable than constantly checking your watch because you're on a tight schedule, Who needs that kind of stress on a holiday?
7. Choose immersion and connection in your travel. Simply passing through, then checking off destinations that might be on your "bucket list," isn't a way to increase happiness and satisfaction when you travel. Avoiding "tourist traps" and immersing yourself in the local culture is a far better way to see those "must see" places. Again, research has shown that humans underestimate how much they'll actually enjoy talking to a stranger. In fact, when we make the effort to step away from the familiar to meet other people and experience their cultures, it can deepen our appreciation of the places we see. Immersing yourself in the local culture and connecting with native residents will make your trip far more memorable than staying in a big chain hotel. Get outside your comfort zone and really "see" the place your visiting! Live like a native, not a tourist.
8. Take time to savor your vacation. Jaime Kuntz, author of The Happy Traveler says, "Being mindfully present for any experience can heighten our sense of enjoyment when we are traveling. However, too many of us lose our connection to our experiences because we worry about what’s happening at home or spend too much time “sharing” our adventures with friends via social media. It’s a good idea to put your phone away for large parts of your trip and just be present. Research suggests that, even though many of us may post photos of our trips hoping to share our happiness with others, this can backfire and actually create more distance between us and our loved ones at home. Plus, it’s impossible to really enjoy fully what’s in front of us if we’re checking our “likes” on social media or worrying too much about getting the “perfect photo.”
I hope these hints and tricks help to make your next trip not only a memorable one, but a happy one, as well.
Have a great weekend everyone. And stay safe, wherever your travels may take you. I invite you all back here again on Monday! Meanwhile, it's time for me to go tip my toe in the water....